Behind the music
Locally produced radio show explores craft of songwriting
I’m just the postman. I deliver the songs.—Bob Dylan
For those who don’t play music, the creation of a song might seem fairly esoteric. But even for musicians, those who understand how to harness the elements of music, the source of their art can be elusive. And for many, talking about the inspiration or even the meaning of their songs is a poor substitute for just listening to them.
“Some people want to leave it open to interpretation,” said Nolan Ford, KCHO music director who’s host and producer of “Songs from Studio C,” a weekly in-studio music program that is all about songwriters talking about their songs. Or, as Ford describes the mission: “to connect our listeners with up-and-coming songwriters and explore the stories of their songs.” Since November 2015, the local public radio station has aired a new four-minute episode each week (Mondays at 6:44 p.m., repeated Tuesdays at 7:45 a.m.), featuring a wide range of local and touring musicians performing a song live in the studio and talking to Ford about what their songs are about and what inspired them.
“I really want the show to be a platform [for songwriters],” he said.
Each episode features a brief bio delivered by Ford, followed by a snippet from the live performance and a few excerpts from an interview with the musicians spliced together. In addition to the on-air segment, there’s also a video made of each song posted on the station’s site along with audio of the full extended interview.
Well-known in-studio shows like NPR’s “Tiny Desk Concerts” and “Live In-Studio” on Seattle’s KEXP were inspirations for “Songs from Studio C,” and for the touring acts he books, Ford says he’s looking for artists who are just on the cusp of being on those nationally recognized programs. Some of the more notable guests include Boston folk quartet Darlingside, S.F. funky cabaret crew Royal Jelly Jive, and Ford’s favorite guest so far, Portland singer/songwriter Johanna Warren, who appeared on the show last October.
“I was nearly brought to tears .… Her lyrics are so dark and beautiful,” Ford said, adding that he also was impressed by her use of inventive time signatures. “It’s just a perfect combination of musical elements.”
So far, the show has featured local songwriters nearly as often as touring acts. This week’s guest was local duo Sunday Iris, featuring longtime Chico musicians Lisa Langley and Dave Elke, playing and talking about their new song “Across the Line,” featuring the timely lyrics: “White houses fade into the night/where the light once shined/replaced with dark times.”
“Things are just getting a little out of hand in a lot of ways,” Elke says in the episode, explaining how the song was inspired by current societal unrest in America. “It’s like we’re on the other side of that line and we’ve got a long road ahead of us, and there’s just a lot to be figured out.”
Ford is a musician himself, one who has played a variety of styles—from the frenetic guitar noise of one-time local indie crew Secret Stolen to the twangy soul of current Chico rockers The Rugs—and he approaches the songwriters as a musician. The show isn’t a critical analysis of the music, but rather musicians talking to one another about the craft, something that Ford says makes them more inclined to talk shop. And he stays out of the way and lets the songwriters and their songs have the spotlight.
“It feels really good to be able to provide a stage for them to be heard by more people,” he said.
“I love it. On a day I go to the radio station and I get to do [the show], it’s a total rush.”